“Hoo-oo ha-a ha-a hoo-oo
When will I see you again?
When will we share precious moments?”
This week both England and France set out their plans for the next stage in dealing with Covid-19. It is interesting to compare the two. (Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have their own schedules.)
In England, the lockdown period will end on December 2nd, and there will be a return to the three-tier system first announced on October 12th but with significantly tighter rules.
In Tier 1, the rules are minimal, but this only covers a few isolated areas, like the Isle of Wight and Cornwall.
In Tier 2 (which is most of the country), you can’t socialise indoors with anyone you do not live with or who is not in your support bubble. You can meet in a group of up to six outside – including in a garden or a public place.
Shops, gyms, and personal care services (such as hairdressing) can reopen.
Pubs and bars can only open if they serve substantial meals. They must shut at 23:00 GMT, with last orders at 22:00 GMT.
Sports can resume with up to 2,000 spectators, or at 50% capacity (whichever is smaller).
In Tier 3 (which includes large parts of northern England), additional restrictions apply. Hospitality venues such as bars, pubs, cafés, and restaurants must stay closed, except for delivery and takeaway services. Spectator sports cannot resume.
More than 23 million people in England – 41.5% of the population – will be living under Tier 3 measures.
The first review of the tiers is set for December 16th, but it has already been announced that restrictions will be relaxed in all tiers from December 23rd till December 28th to allow three households to celebrate together indoors, outdoors, or in a place of worship.
France has adopted a very different approach to that of England. The new rules apply uniformly to the entire country.
As of yesterday, shops can open. This includes libraries, bookshops, clothes shops, toy shops, flower shops, etc. Also included are hairdressers and beauticians.
Not included are cinemas, theatres, museums, cafés, restaurants, or bars.
The system of exemption certificates (attestations de déplacement) will remain, meaning that anyone going out to exercise or shop will need to complete one and take it with them.
People will now be allowed to exercise each day for up to three hours within 20 kilometres of their home. This does not allow people to visit family members or friends at their homes.
From December 15th, France’s lockdown will end if the average number of daily cases falls below 5,000 and the number of patients in intensive care units drops to between 2,500 and 3,000 or lower. Cinemas, theatres, and museums can reopen. Cafés, restaurants, and bars must remain closed. People will be able to move around freely, but a curfew will be in place from 21:00 to 07:00.
On January 20th, if the average number of daily Covid-19 cases remains below 5,000, France will move to phase three of its easing of lockdown measures. The curfew will end, and restaurants and cafés will be permitted to reopen.
Arguably, in France we are under a stricter regime. In particular, the non-opening of bars and restaurants until January 20th is hard to take. The curfew will last for over a month, with only a two-day relaxation for Christmas. However, the general impression I get is that most people are fairly resigned to the new regime (apart, obviously, from restaurant and bar owners). The government strategy has the advantage of being clear, logically argued, and applying equally to everyone.
We had a curfew during the first lockdown, and it didn’t seem to bother people. More and more restaurants are offering a takeaway service. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. The Christmas restriction is not quite as draconian as it might seem. Christmas here is a low-key private affair. You won’t see any Santas or reindeer on people’s lawns. There are no office parties, and pools of festive vomit in the streets are mercifully absent. The emphasis is on two meals – on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. By Boxing Day, people are returning to work and life to normal. All shops are open and busy. I have to say, after three years, I find this a perfectly acceptable way of doing things.
I could be wrong, but I get the impression that people are less happy in England. The tier system is complicated and inevitably throws up a number of anomalies. For example, Kent villages with very few virus cases now find themselves in Tier 3. People in Manchester (Tier 3) say they are being punished for previous disputes between their mayor and central government.
The proposed long Christmas break is dividing opinion. The government argument is that banning Christmas was never going to work; as people were not going to follow the rules, providing guidance to help them celebrate safely is a better way of managing the situation. However, many scientists are against it, saying it increases the risk of a third spike. Various newspaper surveys find that the majority of their readers think that relaxing rules for Christmas isn’t worth an additional month of lockdown later. Underlying everything there seems to be a sense that the overall strategy management is a bit flaky. Just today, the papers are reporting that Boris Johnson is preparing to make concessions to head off a revolt in his own party. There may be more twists and turns before the year is out.
When I said that people in France are resigned to the new regime, that doesn’t mean that everything always runs smoothly. In Joinville-le-Pont, on the outskirts of Paris, earlier this month, police officers were called to break up a rave involving over 300 people. They were met with a shower of bottles, which, I suppose, at least indicates that the partygoers were mindful of maintaining a safe physical distance.
Then on Monday, in Lannion, Brittany, a man was fined €135 for filling out his attestation form incorrectly. He had correctly given his name, address, and time of leaving home, but a policeman found that instead of ticking one of the boxes stating a legitimate reason to go outside – shopping, exercising, visiting the doctor, etc. – the man had written ‘aller péter la gueule à un mec’ (to smash a guy’s face in), an activity not covered by the form. He was fined an additional €150 for being drunk.
Three things learnt this week.
In France, it is legal to marry a dead person, so long as they had the intention to marry you while they were alive.
The word ‘his’ appears in the Bible 8,472 times. The word ‘hers’ features three times.
The average person farts 15–25 times per day.